Simple Concepts: Progress over Perfection & Why it Matters
First of Three in Simple Concepts Series:
While this simple philosophy may not need much explaining, why is it that so many people live their lives focused on some futuristic ideal rather than the next step that gets them closer to their goal? Sure, we should take Covey’s advice to “begin with the end in mind*,” but shouldn’t the end in mind be achievable? If it always was achievable, we wouldn’t sometimes be reminded to not “boil the ocean.” Life experience has proven that many professionals, especially the high achievers” are wired to pursue this mythical notion of perfection. The embracing of the simple concept of Progress over Perfection has resulted in countless “aha moments” over the past couple of decades. I can’t take credit as it has been around and professed by many leaders for years, but I can elaborate on the application of this powerful philosophy.
Before going any further, it’s important to establish some important guardrails. Progress over Perfection is not an excuse to be sloppy. It only works if the progress is meaningful, and it’s only powerful if there is no expiration. Progress must always be the goal, and progress must never end.
At the organizational level…
In goal setting: Companies that focus on meaningful progress and basic principles like achievable and measurable goals, will get more buy-in and better performance from those accountable to achieving the results than those with top-down goal setting that sets unrealistic targets with no input from key stakeholders. Sure, there is power in stretch goals, but the key is in focusing on achievable progress steps and involving a larger group of leaders in the planning and execution of those steps.
In people selection: Many hiring managers tend to overlook the candidate that has adopted a true “growth mindset**” and can show how he/she has learned from mistakes and made progress, by favoring the “perfect candidate” who shows no determinable flaws?” This may be the biggest problem in corporate environments. They select people who think they need to be perfect to get the job and then the individual stops focusing on individual development because s/he has been conditioned to this perfection mindset. The cycle continues when these individuals are responsible for hiring and building teams. This also tends to run counter to diversity and inclusion efforts, where the idea of the “perfect candidate” rarely accounts for diverse representation.
At the individual level…
A person that focuses on meaningful and measurable progress will typically surpass the individual who believes the only way to success is to show that she or he has nothing meaningful to make progress on. This concept applies equally to personal and professional life. One can always be a better parent, partner, friend, etc.
Why it matters…
Two reasons. Speed and excellence. Those who adopt this philosophy tend to show quicker progress than the perfectionist by focusing on meaningful and measurable steps vs some ideal state in the future. Because of the foundational belief that progress is always possible, this individual never settles. The good can always get better. The better can always be excellent. When excellence is achieved, it’s just a matter of time before the status quo will need to be challenged again demanded by the changing environment around us.
* Stephen R. Covey (2016) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Mango Media
** Carol S. Dweck (2006) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House